Earlier in the year, Bridget Indelicato and her team of volunteers held seed-packing sessions for the Innisfil Seed Library – sorting and packaging donated seeds into neat packs of 10, for the upcoming Seedy Saturday at the Lakeshore Library and the 2020 gardening season.
Seed libraries allow families to ‘borrow’ packages of seeds to grow in their gardens for free, ‘returning’ the seeds at the end of the season, with the fall harvest.
Then COVID-19 hit. Seedy Saturday was cancelled, the Cookstown and Lakeshore branches of the Innisfil ideaLAB & Library, which house the seed collections, were in lockdown – and Indelicato was left with about 1,100 neat packages of vegetable, herb and flower seeds.
“I thought, what a shame not to distribute them!” she said.
Indelicato looked at what other Seed Libraries were doing. Some were setting out bins of the seed packages, and allowing patrons to take what they liked.
“To me, that didn’t feel safe,” Indelicato said – too much contact, with patrons rifling through the bins.
Instead, she worked with the Innisfil ideaLAB on an order-online/send-out-by-mail model, which has been in place since the spring, that is “simple, free and safe,” she said. “The response has been amazing.”
Patrons go online to browse through what “looks like a little catalogue,” and order the seeds that they want. They can choose up to 12 packets of seeds, which are then mailed out along with a letter, describing online resources for gardening and seed-saving tips.
There is even a link to Indelicato’s YouTube channel, ‘Mindful Gardening,’ where she shares her own knowledge “from my Innisfil garden!”
The tips are all timely. “When I plant my garlic in the fall, I’m going to have a video, so people can follow along,” she said.
Next week’s video will focus on “how to save tomato seeds, using the fermentation process,” to save viable seeds and produce “really healthy tomato plants!”
Starting in the spring, gardeners could order up to 10 vegetable seed packets and two flower seed packets from the Innisfil Seed Library. So far this year, over 900 packets have been distributed, representing 9,000 individual seeds.
Although the season is beginning to wind down, there are still seeds left, and still time to order - until Sept. 30, or while supplies last.
“You can still plant, especially native species, like common milkweed, asters and other pollinator-friendly plants", Indelicato said. Patrons can order up to six vegetable packets and six flower packets, in keeping with what will germinate this fall or in the spring.
The response to the online/mail-out system has been positive.
In addition to the ‘regulars’ who have used the Seed Library since its start five years ago, the program has seen “a lot of new people, a lot of new borrowers,” especially interested in growing their own food. “We surpassed what I expected,” she noted.
The Innisfil ideaLAB covered the costs of envelopes and postage, to ensure that seeds are available at no charge, but the program has been more than a source of free seeds. It’s been something positive, during a time of stress and isolation, Indelicato pointed out.
“Being able to plant seeds brought people a little bit of happiness in COVID,” she said. She particularly treasured a comment from one parent: “You kept me and my kids busy!”
Now, she is encouraging Seed Library patrons to harvest and ‘return’ their borrowed seeds to the library.
Seeds should be packaged, clearly labelled, and dropped off between Sept. 1 and Oct. 31 at either the Lakeshore Library in Alcona, or the Cookstown branch – either in person at Customer Service, or dropped into a book drop box.
Donating seeds will ensure that the Innisfil Seed Library remains sustainable, and can return in the spring. The combination of online ordering and mail distribution was so successful that it may also be continued next year, whether or not pandemic restrictions are still in place.
“We know it works,” Indelicato said – and it’s clear that the Seed Library continues to play a growing and vibrant role in the community.
“It’s amazing. It’s evolved,” she said. “It’s grown, and I’m definitely proud of it.”
For more information on the seed library, ordering, and saving seeds, click here.